June 24, 2017

Historical Experience and Innovation in China's Politics in the Context of Current Geopolitical Changes

Part 3. “The power of the parties is an indispensable condition of a peace agreement” — Chanakya

Part 1. “Cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others)” — Confucius

Part 2. Peculiarities of China's Foreign Policy in New Geopolitical Conditions


Oleksandr Lebid, a Military and Political Expert

The ancient Indian philosopher Chanakya's quote chosen as the title, quite accurately describes the role of China's military power in its policy of establishing equal relations with world decision-making centers.

The Chinese leadership pays special attention to increasing the combat effectiveness of the People's Liberation Army of China (PLA), developing the national military-industrial complex and military-technical cooperation with foreign states.

Implementation of the plans for reform of the Armed Forces of the PRC contributes to the growth of the national economic potential. At this, the Chinese leadership considers the reforms and modernization of the PLA an organic component of the state's economic and social development.

The PLA is being reformed in accordance with the “Modernization of the National Defense and Armed Forces” program, whose goal is by 2049 to create Armed Forces of a “new type” capable of participating in modern wars and defending national interests in a global context. Changes in the Chinese Armed Forces are aimed at achieving effective inter-service interaction, mobility, use of innovative technologies, and creation of compact Armed Forces with a high level of constant combat readiness. In fact, the reformed Armed Forces should be prepared to participate in regional conflicts of varying intensity to ensure China's primacy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Proceeding from the above-mentioned tasks, the main directions of the PLA's reforming are as follows:

  • improvement of the command and control system;
  • optimization of the strength of the Armed Forces and organizational and staff structure;
  • determination of the political course of the army;
  • integration of the army and society.

It is expected that the overall progress in the main areas of modernization of the PLA will be achieved by 2020. The main content of the modernization of the PLA at the present stage is electronic communication development and computerization of the Armed Forces, improving their combat capabilities by increasing the interaction of the PLA's forces during joint operations. The ultimate goal of the military reform is to create the Armed Forces, capable of effectively implementing nuclear deterrence, successfully operating in a modern high-tech war of a local scale, as well as during anti-terrorist operations.

According to the representatives of the PLA Command, the main task of the current stage of reforming of the Chinese Armed Forces is to create a scientifically sound and rational management system, an effective system of joint operational command, a proportionally built organizational and staff structure of the Armed Forces, and to increase the Army's combat capability by eliminating structural contradictions.

Activities to reform the PLA, which were carried out in 2015-2016, included:

  • transition to the structure of the Armed Forces, consisting of five types/branches. As a result of the reform, have been created the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Missile Force and the Strategic Support Force (they must be capable of conducting combat operations in cyberspace);
  • creation of a three-level command and control system: the Central Military Council of the PRC — the type/branch of Armed Forces — formations, as well as the three-level system of operational joint command: Central Military Council — zone command — formations;
  • the change in the military-administrative division of the territory of the PRC, within which five Theater Commands (Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central) have been established, to which all units and formations are subordinate in their zone of responsibility in peacetime and wartime;
  • creation of prerequisites for improving the moral and psychological climate in the Armed Forces by clearing the PLA of corruption and servicemen who do not support reforms.

It is also planned to reduce the total PLA's number to 2 million by 2018.

Chinese President Xi Jinping confers the military flag of the PLA's Strategic Support Force,
Beijing, December 31, 2015
Theater Commands of the China’s People's Liberation Army

An analysis of the activities of the current stage of reforms makes it possible to determine the priority tasks for which the PLA should be ready, namely:

  • improving the efficiency of command and control of troops through the unification and simplification of their command system. The forces have received equal in status headquarters, and the general command of the PLA is within the competence of the established Joint Staff, which is accountable to the Central Military Council;
  • increasing readiness to carry out combat missions related to the control of the situation around Taiwan and the disputed islands in the Pacific Ocean, in the waters of the South China and East China Seas.


Increasing the PLA's combat capability directly depends on improving the quality of the development of the Chinese military-industrial complex (MIC). The Chinese MIC has a significant scientific, technical and production base, which allows the production of a wide range of military and dual-use goods. In general, the Chinese military industry meets the needs of the PLA in armament and military equipment. However, the country's lagging behind in science and technology, in particular its R&D, the presence of a large number of obsolete and worn-out equipment in some enterprises, as well as the limited possibilities for the production of new materials have led to the tactical and technical characteristics of a significant part of manufactured weapons and their manufacturing technology in a number of cases being below the level of similar samples of leading foreign countries.

Besides, the Chinese military industry's problem remains its inadequate capacity for independent breakthrough innovations. Most of the Chinese developments are the result of deep processing of foreign technology.

To obtain an opportunity to produce weapons and military equipment that can be compared with Western high-tech samples, China is reforming the national MIC on such directions:

  • improving the quality of training qualified personnel for the MIC to work at all levels of development and production of weapons and military equipment;
  • improving the management system of the MIC with the aim of creating a new mechanism for managing the military industry enterprises that would meet the requirements of a market economy;
  • active involvement of civil, including non-state, economy in the process of development and production of military products;
  • creation of a system of small defense production, while maintaining broad mobilization opportunities;
  • continuing the conversion of defense production, active use of excess capacities of the MIC in the interests of the civilian sector of the economy.
China's defense budget (2011–2017), billion yuan

At present, one of the main directions of China's military industry reform has been the creation of a modern scientific and technical base for military production on the basis of integration of military industry enterprises and technologically advanced civil companies and enterprises, including private ones and those with foreign capital.

It is expected that the non-state sector's being involved in fulfilling the tasks related to the production of weapons and military equipment will significantly facilitate getting the samples of high-tech products and innovative technologies from abroad for their use in defense production, reduce the cost of developing weapons and military equipment, shorten R&D periods and provide additional investment in the development of scientific-production base.

With this in mind, China has established a Central Commission for Integrated Civil and Military Development, headed by President Xi Jinping. The Commission will deal with integration of state-owned defense and advanced civilian enterprises into a single production system. In fact, the Chinese side plans to take advantage of the US experience in the development of the military industry and to introduce market approaches to the work of state defense companies. For example, this is how the activity of the American corporations Boeing and Lockheed Martin is arranged. One of the tasks of such integration of enterprises is liquidation of the monopoly of the MIC in the production of defense products. However, a serious obstacle in this way is the significant dependence of enterprises on state financing.

For a long time, military-technical cooperation with foreign states was of special importance for the development and strengthening of the Chinese MIC, which was the source of advanced military technologies for the PRC.

Since the beginning of economic transformations and before the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, China has actively cooperated with Western countries and used that cooperation for the accelerated development of the national MIC. Contacts with French, British, Italian, American and German companies made it possible to significantly reform many branches of the MIC and to set a rhythm for the independent development of some of them. Thus, after the events in Tiananmen Square and the introduction of Western sanctions, the Chinese helicopter industry was able to develop using the experience gained with the help of Western technologies. At this, China did without Russia's significant technological assistance.

A distinctive feature of China's cooperation with the West was the ability to obtain technologies for the production of important parts and components of military equipment, which let Chinese manufacturers master the production of engines for armored vehicles and submarines, certain types of aircraft engines, avionics, fire control systems. Especially important in securing the legal acquisition of Western military technologies by China was its cooperation with Israel.

In the current situation of political pressure and the embargo on military supplies to China from the United States and the European Union, military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation has become especially important. At the same time, Russia avoids the transfer of technologies for the production of weapons and military equipment to China, offering China to buy Russian finished products. This peculiarity of the Sino-Russian military-technical cooperation has led to the PRC's continued dependence on cooperation with Russia, intensification of which was observed in 2015–2016.

Russian arms export to China (1992–2016), USD billion

Of greatest demand for China are Russian aircraft engines, software for aviation complexes, composite materials for aircraft construction, combat systems and equipment for the aircraft carriers, naval fighter and bomber aviation.

According to Chinese experts, promising spheres of China's military-technical cooperation with foreign countries include contacts within the framework of the BRICS. The sufficiently developed military industry, the difference in its specialization, the different political background of the international relations of the member countries of the Organization suggest that the military-technical cooperation between the BRICS countries can allow the exchange of technologies and production of weapons and military equipment for selling them to third countries.


Conclusion. Ukraine's Special Place in China's Foreign Policy

The PRC's geopolitical and geo-economic aspirations create conditions for Ukraine to take a special place in China's foreign policy.

In particular, the Chinese side is interested in Ukraine's active participation in the implementation of the “One Belt — One Road” initiative, as it enables China to effectively hedge risks associated with international tensions around Russia. International sanctions against Russia imposed in response to its armed aggression against Ukraine, as well as increasing socioeconomic instability in the Russian Federation, are pushing Beijing to develop alternative infrastructure projects that would ensure uninterrupted communication between the PRC and the European Union.

China's actions to implement the plans for Ukraine exclude politicization of the Ukrainian-Chinese cooperation. This is supposed to let maintain constructive contacts with the Ukrainian leadership of any political orientation. Proceeding from this, China's policy is aimed at non-interference with settling the conflict in Ukraine.

That is why strengthening of economic Ukrainian-Chinese cooperation is of special importance for China. The main spheres of such cooperation include investing in the economy, creating joint ventures, conducting scientific and technical research, etc. During the negotiations between First Vice Premier, the Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine S. Kubiv and Vice Premier of the State Council of the PRC Ma Kai, which took place on the sidelines of the “One Belt — One Road” Forum, it was decided:

  • To hold a bilateral business forum and the 3rd meeting of the intergovernmental Commission on trade and economic cooperation (after a 4 years' break);
  • To intensify cooperation in the spheres of agriculture, astronautics, aircraft industry and machine building.
A meeting of First Vice Premier of Ukraine S. Kubiv and Vice Premier of the State Council of the PRC Ma Kai, Beijing, May 14, 2017

In general, in the development of cooperation with Ukraine, China has focused on the development of the Ukrainian infrastructure, cooperation in the field of agriculture, as well as strengthening military-technical cooperation. According to the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine, today the amount of Chinese investment in the Ukrainian economy is about 7 billion US dollars.

At the same time, China's intention to involve Ukraine in the “One Belt — One Road” initiative is perceived with suspicion in the European Union and the USA, as creation of infrastructure corridors outside the Russian territory increases the likelihood of successful implementation of the Chinese geo-economic initiative.

Taking into consideration that the PRC's current approach to the economy in some way contradicts the Western principles of economic activity, the European Union and the United States are interested in coordinating of Ukraine's participation in the “One Belt — One Road” initiative with Ukraine's leadership. Due to coordinated actions, the West will be able to resolve the following problems:

  • Ensuring Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration;
  • Preservation of the ability to influence the functioning of transport corridors through the use of sanctions against Russia;
  • Compelling the PRC to observe parity and equal rights in economic activity, based on the understanding conventional in the West;
  • Compliance with the format of cooperation between the European Union and China, instead of China's bilateral contacts with the EU members.

In such circumstances, in the development of relations with Ukraine, China continues its traditional foreign policy, in accordance with which the planned is being carried out in full and without forcing the processes. China sees Ukraine as a state that, if successfully integrated with the EU, will become the first European country in the infrastructure projects of the “One Belt — One Road” initiative. In this regard, Beijing positively assessed Ukraine's signing the Association Agreement with the EU. China's patient attitude is largely explained by the PRC's great economic potential and readiness for unforeseen financial losses.

At the same time, China can only draw closer to Ukraine to a safe distance, in order to always maintain a balance of relations in the geopolitical triangle of the USA–Russia–China and in the world as a whole.